Monday 18 December 2017

Google Glass: the future's in face recognition

Matt Warman

The world's most hyped piece of tech will change everything but not just yet...

In San Francisco this week, the largest gathering yet recorded of a new breed of internet-enhanced human beings took place. Thanks to a new, ‘wearable computer’ called Google Glass, the total power of the web was literally within sight of every conversation. Using a screen positioned just above each wearer’s right eye, Glass is able to offer, for now, directions, search results, information, reminders and emails without even the need to reach for a mobile phone. Thanks to its voice-activated camera, a photo or ten-second video is as easy as saying ‘OK Glass, take a picture’.

Glass is the most hyped piece of technology on the planet at the moment, in part because Google has been so shy of letting journalists, still less members of the public, anywhere near them. Distributed, for $1,500, to a range of ‘explorers’ who Google hopes will develop new software for them, Glass is touted as both the future and a frightening prospect by many who hardly know what they are.

Glass is not, for a start, recording all the time. Its limited battery life means the most it could manage would last about 45 minutes of continuous filming, which is far less than a mobile phone. But at Google’s I/O conference in San Francisco, new announcements were made which nudge towards what this gadget will be capable of in the future.

Facebook, for instance, announced that it is working on an app for Glass. This is the social network which already employs technology to recognise who is in a photograph – take a picture, or video with Glass and it might instantly know who you’re with, where you are and, by inference at least, what you’re doing. This is not here yet, but it is an obvious next step. Ebay, too, is working on an app which, say, in a shop might in future alert you instantly to cheaper options by recognising what you’re looking at. None of this is as far away as it sounds. Sergey Brin, Google’s co-founder and the head of Glass, told me with certainty that such gadgets will soon be common “all over” the world.

For that to happen, Google, must first make Glass affordable – experts reckon it is aiming to sell them from next year at a price not too far away from $200. And it must assuage fear about future privacy implications: US senators have demanded that it explain how it will allow people to opt out of facial recognition. The problem with that is that to know someone has opted out of facial recognition, you first have to recognise who they are. That paradox indicates, among so much more, how extensive the overall impact of Glass and its like will be in the long term.

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